Resources for More Authentic Reading Comprehension Strategies

As a freshly-graduated educator, I had been extensively drilled on reading comprehension strategies. Excited to try out my research-backed literary stockpile, I whipped up beautiful little guided reading packets that featured multiple copies of each comprehension strategy, complete with instructions and fill-in-the-blanks.

So I was shocked to discover that my students hated those packets. No matter how much support I offered, all I seemed to receive in return were lost pages and careless responses. After months of toiling in futility, we eventually ditched those packets and sought other ways to cultivate reading comprehension strategies.

Years later, my reflections have revisited those packets. What went wrong? Why were even my advanced readers disengaged?  Why didn’t they help students see the value of the strategies?

After further reflection, I realized we need to put ourselves in our students’ shoes. Imagine you’re deep in the thralls of your novel when someone comes up to you and asks you to synthesize the perspectives and settings so far.  Or to make an inference right now.  Or to come up with a question about your last chapter. Maybe you’re able to give adequate responses, but how likely are they to be genuine, meaningful reflections that enhance your reading experience?

Both my packets and this not-so-hypothetical example are missing one crucial element:  authenticity. As we examine practical ways to increase authenticity in our reading comprehension strategies instruction, we should consider how metacognition and ownership can work in this setting.

Metacognition

Research has instructed us to focus on the “what good readers do” angle as we explicitly teach these strategies.  But does that really mean telling them that good readers constantly pause for outside-mandated reflections at arbitrary times?  Of course not.

We need to build on this instruction by teaching them to notice the natural moments of self-conversation and wonderings as they read, and then to learn how to identify the strategies that are already at play. This awareness of their own thinking will enhance their authentic use of these comprehension strategies because it will gradually strengthen their ability to consciously utilize and articulate them.

Ownership

Fifth grade teacher Jessica Lifshitz shared what happened when she shifted from merely teaching the what and how of comprehension strategies toward the why (1/12/17 edit: She’s also constantly using Google Apps to create student checklists and self-assessments that packed with ownership and metacognition, such as this Revision Checklist). These conversations help students internalize the real impact these strategies can have on our individual lives, which is crucial in using them in more authentic, meaningful ways.

To further help students take the reins on their own reading experience, I realized that we need to rethink how we ask students to express their thinking, being mindful of flexibility and choice. So I created the organizer below, which encourages them to consider which strategy they’ve used and how it improves their personal understanding.  Click here for the pdf!

FlexibleStudent-CenteredReadingComprehensionPracticeAs researcher Brene Brown summarizes, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen” (The Gifts of Imperfection).  Let’s give our students the chance to make learning more honest and real for them, for reading comprehension strategies and everywhere else.  What are other measures you’ve taken to encourage authenticity in your classroom?

Featured image: Hazel Marie via flickr

Beginner’s Guide to Maker-ize An Elementary Classroom

When most penny-pinching, time-crunched, and exhausted teachers hear about lofty ideas like the MakerSpace movement in education, they are likely to dismiss it as another passing and impractical fad. However, the more we investigate, the more convinced we are that there are practical–and profoundly meaningful–ways for teachers to implement its ideals, even in an elementary school classroom.

Benefits of Maker Spaces

“Makerspaces come in all shapes and sizes, but they all serve as a gathering point for tools, projects, mentors and expertise. A collection of tools does not define a Makerspace. Rather, we define it by what it enables: making.” (MakerSpace Playbook)

They cultivate creativity. For students who already love doing, they will love this outlet to get their hands on a myriad of resources. For students who feel that they are lacking in creativity, they will have an opportunity to rekindle their inborn wonder and curiosity.

(Remember Caine’s Arcade? This video goes on to show the resulting movement, all from a bit of cardboard)

They provide an opportunity for students to take the lead. How much of our students’ time involves them being directed in what answers to give, what products to create, and even what art to design (and when)? A MakerSpace gives them the opportunity to learn how to pursue their own ideas and possibilities, and on their time-table.

They make for a much more productive fast-finisher. Have you ever had a parent report to you that their child is bored?  Get a MakerSpace zone going in your classroom, and watch what happens to that boredom.

They develop essential characteristics. In this ever-evolving global landscape, we must focus on giving our students practical tools that will serve them in the long-term. Critical thinking, problem solving, and intrinsic motivation–these are just a few attributes that are encouraged in a MakerSpace’s atmosphere of tinkering, iterating, and exploring.

They canCreate a physical laboratory for inquiry-based learning

MakerSpaces are designed to make students wonder, question, and experiment as they work to make sense of the world around them.

4 Realistic Tips to Maker-ize Your Room

#1: Start with designating a small space for your makers. A full-blown high school makerspace can cost over $30,000, complete with 10 different modules, including a workspace and tools area, and zones for woodworking, metalworking, electronics, textiles, computers, digital fabrication, 3D printing, laser cutting and more. Instead of getting overwhelmed by the magnitude of such a vision, simply pull elements that would be practical for your students and classroom. Put up a Wonder shelf in the back of your room. Mount a pegboard to display all the tools. Get creative with a workbench for multi-use storage and workspace, such as putting casters on a dresser.

#2: Look at existing resources. Add casters, table tops, and plexiglass to your student desks  for flexible workspaces & collaboration (Third Teacher + redesign).

  • Look at other teachers’ strategies for starting simply, such as this teacher’s list of top 5 materials to provide.
  • Ask for donations of cardboard, remnant fabric, playdough, and scrap wood. Look for tools you can borrow from home, like your hot glue gun, miter box, & travel sewing set. Recycle juice bottles and egg cartons. Make your space a poster child for “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” in the best possible ways!  

#3: Plan for Guidelines. As open-ended as a MakerSpace can and should be, be sure to consider basic boundaries and safety:

  • Create, display, and discuss posters that outline appropriate and safe use.
  • Support the growth mindset, being particularly mindful of embracing risk-taking, perseverance, and failing. We love this FAIL sheet as a guide to help students reflect upon and learn from their failures.
  • Decide when your MakerSpace will be open. Before or after school? Open lunch? Fast finishers? Family nights?
  • Consider designing open-ended projects/challenges for your students (top projects for beginners), especially those who would appreciate a little more structure.  For whole-class project-based learning that is actually graded, consider creating rubrics to offer more support.
  • Think about the conversations you’ll have with your students when they get stuck, overconfident, or frustrated. Gayle Allen and Lisa Yokana share great insight on student/teacher discussions during each stage of making.

#4: Gradually Invest. As tempting as it may be to try and dive in with one show-stopping gadget, you are better off letting your students gradually acclimate to their MakerSpace, learning and deciding together its growth and direction. Consider these ideas:

  • Make it a point to learn about your students’ interests. Would they love more electronics? How about a few Lego sets? Perhaps a sewing machine? Prioritize your MakerSpace growth based on those interests.
  • Look to teacher funding resources like Donors Choose to help your students’ dreams happen. Start small with fascinating tools like a Makey Makey, and perhaps eventually build to bigger ticket items, like a Printrbot 3D printer.

Other resources to launch your MakerSpace:

Featured Image: DeathtoTheStockPhoto.com

Why & How to Abolish “Can I Go to the Bathroom?”

The way we handle one of our students’ most basic needs can reflect a lot about the degree to which we cling to control. Not only does this topic take a lot of honest self evaluation, but it requires genuine empathy for each of our students.

Why?

unnecessary interruption

When students are required to raise their hand to ask to use the bathroom, it often disrupts the flow of a discussion.  And with intercom announcements, drills, and more, don’t we have enough interruptions anyway? 

Domino effect

Particularly with younger students, a restroom announcement from one student often triggers several more deciding to go unnecessarily. This turns a simple, individual routine into a larger disruption to learning.

humiliation factor

We probably don’t need to list all the circumstances that may require a person to visit the bathroom more frequently than others.  And because those circumstances are often deeply personal and sometimes embarrassing, forcing students to raise their hand each and every time can be humiliating for some, and perhaps debilitating for others.  Students have enough on their shoulders without the added anxiety of whether they’ll be able to discreetly take care of their bodily functions.

Student autonomy


We often worry so much about our responsibility as teachers to keep tabs on all our students that we lose sight of their capacity. However, with some training and discussion, the majority of our students can handle the simple social contract of only using the restroom when needed, and to monitor appropriate timing to do so.  If you’re worried about them getting up in the middle of instruction, tell them that. Explain the concern that they will miss important instructions, and encourage them to utilize independent or group work time. Explain the privilege and associated accountability with this autonomy. And of course, continue to keep an eye out to pick up on misuse and possible intervention. See ideas for this in the tips below.

Put yourself in their shoes

We may think we’re teaching them responsibility to check in with you first. We may think we’re teaching them time management to tell them to just go during their breaks. But in the end, we must honestly ask ourselves the tough questions: how would we feel to work in an environment where we had to check in with someone each time we needed to go?  How would our concentration be impacted? What messages are we sending to our students when we strictly control their bathroom use?

How?

  • If you’re coming from a place of more thorough bathroom-use monitoring, start by opening up the conversation with your students. Arrange a class meeting and ask students how they would feel about a new bathroom procedure that allows them to take care of things without coming to you. Discuss the functions of trust, responsibility, and safety, both during that meeting, and throughout the year.
  • Set alternative requirements that will still fulfill your responsibilities as a teacher.  For instance, stipulate that students must put an object on their desks, such as a bottle of hand sanitizer, to indicate they have left (win-win). Another idea is to further require that only one boy and one girl may be absent simultaneously to avoid group bathroom hangouts.  
via 3rdGradeThoughts
via 3rdGradeThoughts
  • Really ask yourself, is one of  your main worries that they’re going to the bathroom just to escape? If so, ponder what you can do about your classroom environment or practices to make your room a more desirable place to be.
  • For students who are accustomed to total teacher control, they may view this new privilege as a continuation of the “me vs. teachers” game they’ve learned.  If this happens, work with that individual student, reminding him or her about trust.  You may find it necessary to create an individual system for that one student (small check-out sheet, etc), but make sure you do not punish the entire class for the lack of responsibility of just a couple students.

featured image: Sam Breach

8 Tips For Non-Manipulative Classroom Praise

“Praise, like penicillin, must not be administered haphazardly. There are rules and cautions that govern the handling of potent medicines— rules about timing and dosage, cautions about possible allergic reactions.” (Haim Ginott, 1965, p. 39)

Praise Research 

Praise researchers have set up various camps for decades. Some maintain that praise encourages student behavior and motivation, advising teachers to “reward the student with verbal reinforcement when she or he exhibits desired behavior” (Dev, 1997, p 16). 

Others believe that it can damage motivation–and in some cases, even become downright manipulative. Alfie Kohn contends that praise “leads [students] to measure their worth in terms of what will lead us to smile and dole out some more approval” (5 Reasons to Stop Saying Good Job).  They argue that “Praise can create excessive pressure to continue performing well, discourage risk taking, and reduce perceived autonomy.” (Henderlong, J. & Lepper, M.R. “The Effects of Praise on Children’s Intrinsic Motivation: A Review and Synthesis,” p. 776).

Despite these opposing camps, still other researchers examine specific variables of praise that can impact students’ intrinsic motivation both beneficially and detrimentally. In their comprehensive praise review, Henderlong and Lepper conclude, “rather than asking whether praise enhances intrinsic motivation, it is far more useful to ask about the conditions under which this is likely to occur” (The Effects of Praise, p. 791). Some of those conditions include:

  • Sincerity: honest and specific evaluation
  • Performance Attributions: focusing on controllable processes vs. student ability/overly simple tasks
  • Perceived Autonomy: focusing on students’ autonomy vs. our control (finding, in fact, that no praise has a better effect than controlling praise)
  • Competence and Self-Efficacy: focusing on information on performance vs. social comparison
  • Standards & Expectations: focusing on specific praise on appropriately-challenging tasks vs. praise for too-easy or too-difficult tasks

8 Tips

Be mindful of the growth-mindset

Never praise students for what they are right now. Elevate your sights to the vision of where their efforts can take them; if your praise focuses merely on their current abilities, they will be less likely to view that potential for growth in themselves.

“I could tell you worked so hard to figure out that math problem. Way to stick with it even when it was tricky!” instead of “You’re so good at math!”

Be descriptive

Vague statements like “good job” can undermine student motivation because it does not offer concrete support for a student’s effort, nor does it recognize their personal reasons for pursuing the task. On the other hand, a detailed description becomes more useful feedback.

“Nice–when you made eye contact and responded constructively to your group members during that activity, it showed them respect and helped your whole group have a good discussion.” instead of “Good group discussion!”

Make the positive reinforcement more of an observation than explicit praise.

Set the tone of optimism by noticing the good more often than the bad. This helps create a positive atmosphere not only because students know you’re not going to harp on every error, but also because they’ll tend to pay more attention to the good things happening around them, too.

“I notice that Carlos is stacking everyone else’s chairs for them.” 

Connect the praise to genuine principles of respectful relationships.

Really, everything else hinges on this one. As Henderlong and Lepper concluded, “…provided that it is perceived as sincere, praise is likely to enhance intrinsic motivation when attributional messages prevent maladaptive inferences, when autonomy is promoted, when perceived competence and self-efficacy are heightened without undue use of social comparison, and when realistic standards and expectations are conveyed” (The Effects of Praise, p. 791). Nothing else will quite matter if your students sense ulterior motives.

“Wow, when Becca turned her chair around when I was sharing instructions, I could tell she was offering not just her attention, but her respect for my time, because her body language showed it. I really appreciate that.”

Genuinely thank students for their efforts to create a supportive classroom environment

They should know that you understand that it’s not easy to bring 25+ people together in a cooperative, positive, and safe learning environment every day. Give them the tools to help by verbalizing the kinds of choices that support learning.  Express your appreciation for those efforts frequently, reminding them that we’re all in this together!

“When Johnny was sharing his story, I saw Ashley put down her papers and look up at him. It’s not easy for anyone to get up and share, so thank you for helping Johnny feel more comfortable with sharing with such an attentive and respectful audience!” 

Don’t just use positive reinforcement as a misbehavior redirect

Notice and point out times when the entire class is pitching in to help the classroom run smoothly, and explain the difference you can feel–and ask them if they can feel it, too!

“During that transition, everyone put away the math cubes and moved back to their desks for wrap up immediately! I love that we have plenty of time to discuss our math noticings now–thank you for helping our class run smoothly!” 

Notice everyone

Seriously. Use a class list on a clipboard and tally off names if you need to. Otherwise, you and your students both know you’re going to wind up primarily noticing the same 5 line-of-sight people every day.

Get rid of tangible extrinsic rewards that often accompany praise

These devalue the positive attention given because students are less likely to internalize the value of the behavior or task for its own sake.  Keep close tabs on your extrinsic rewards in general, and always be willing to ask yourself the tough questions.

Featured Image: fs999

What Happened When I Stopped Teaching History in Chronological Order

“Wait–what?!” That was pretty much the universal response from when I first suggested the idea. But after teaching U.S. history in relentlessly chronological order for a couple of years, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a better way. Wouldn’t teaching all the wars in one unit help them better comprehend the nature and cause/effect of war?  Could teaching about the evolution of governing documents–from the Magna Carta to the 27th U.S. Constitutional Amendment–help students better understand the processes of government? And is chronological order really necessary for students to get a clear picture our country’s past–and more importantly, is it the best way to help them apply it to their present and future?

Back to the Drawing Board

So in my third year of teaching fifth grade, our grade level team decided to take a leap and rework our social studies approach. The priority shifted from individual facts and dates to overarching concepts.

As an IB school, 6 units of inquiry were already in place; we revisited the central idea for each one and considered historical concepts that would relate to each other. Below were the results:

  • Unit: Who We are
    • Central Idea: Understanding the similarities & differences of the human experience helps us explain shared humanity.
    • History concepts included: Rights movements (slavery, civil rights, women’s suffrage, child labor, etc.)
  • Unit: Where we are in place & time
    • Central Idea: The evolution of civilizations stems from human relationships & personal journeys.
    • History concepts included: Westward expansion, Industrial Revolution, Great Depression migration
  • Unit: How the world works
    • Central Idea: Scientific discoveries increase humans’ ability to expand.
    • History concepts included: Pivotal inventions that led to the exploration, formation, and expansion of the U.S.
  • Unit: How we organize ourselves
    • Central Idea: Order drives the systems of our world.
    • History concepts included: Study of governing documents, 3 branches of U.S. government
  • Unit: Sharing the planet
    • Central Idea: The world evolves due to the cause and effect of changes.
    • History concepts included: Study of U.S. wars
  • Unit: How we express ourselves (this is the fifth graders’ self-directed exhibition unit at our school)

Unknown Waters

Throughout the implementation process, I remember actively discussing the new approach with my students–I wanted them to know that I did not know how it would work, and that we were seeking answers together. And answers they found! A couple months in, one suggested that we post a timeline in the corner of our classroom, adding dates and pictures of important events as we explored them to help us all put things in context.  Others exclaimed when they realized that we used to teach each war often months apart, instead of studying them side-by-side.

By the end of the year, my students possessed unprecedented historical comprehension. They didn’t just know the names and dates of important wars; they understood the cause-and-effect within and between each one.  They didn’t just memorize the names of the three branches of government; they understood that governing documents and systems are a work in progress in which we all must participate. They didn’t just watch a couple videos about human rights movements; they made in-depth connections about the human experience and our treatment of one another. For our class, the question of teaching history by concept became a resounding YES.

Final Take-Away

It’s important to note that my most valuable learning from this experience did not come from watching my students flourish in concept-driven history (though that was indeed rewarding!). Rather, it was the realization that we must never stop questioning our practices.  Look among the dustiest and most longstanding ones and simply ask yourself why–and remember to take your students on the journey with you!

If you’re interested in other ways to challenge the status quo, check out our post, “What Happened When We Ditched Our Boxed Spiral Review Program (Mountain Math/Language.”

Featured ImageJános Balázs

10 Back-to-School Icebreaker Games

Icebreakers aren’t just fun–they can play an essential role in helping your students become comfortable with each other at the beginning of and throughout the school year. They also have serious potential for team-building, bonding, and concentration!  This is a tried-and-true list of beloved games, especially suitable for upper elementary and older grades.

7/28/15: As you make plans on how to use this list, check out my follow-up post: Icebreakers: A Learning Moment & Follow-Up


Game of Whiz:

Description: This icebreaker is sure to help everyone get comfortable with each other and have fun as they play with sound effects.

Instructions:
  • Everyone stands in a circle facing each other.
  • Pick a person for the first turn.  He or she can pass the turn by doing one of the following actions/sounds:
  • Saying, “Whiz,” while turning with hands extended as if passing an object to the person on the right or left only.
  • Saying, “Sha-na-na-na-na-na-na,” while waving arms like tentacles across the circle to someone else (make eye contact so they know who you are passing the turn to!)  Note: The person across the circle has to receive the turn by saying “Sha-na-na-na-na-na-na” back at the passer before passing the turn to someone else!
  • Yelling, “Ahhhh!” while putting palms together and pointing at a new person. Note: The person across the circle has to receive the turn by yelling “Ahhh” back at the passer while putting their palms together above their head before passing the turn to someone else.
  • If someone tries to pass “Whiz” to you, you can also deflect it by putting your palms out and saying, “Boink!” Then that person has to pass the turn the other direction (“Boink” only allowed with “Whiz.”)
Winning:
  • After a couple of practice rounds, you can try elimination, where people get out if they forget to receive the “Sha-na-na’s” or yells properly, or otherwise mess up.
  • The last two people standing win!

Hoi Game:

Description: Another great icebreaker that allows everyone to just be silly and have fun together as they train with their “samurai sword” hands, drilling, “Hoi!” at each other.

Instructions:
  • Everyone stands in a circle facing each other.
  • Everyone puts their hands together as if in samurai training and bows to each other chanting, “Hoi, hoi, hoi, hoi, hoi.”
  • Then the first person puts their palms together with arms extended, and while pointing them at someone says, “Hoi!”
  • The person who was pointed at has to respond by putting his/her hands above his/her head with palms together while saying, “Hoi!”
  • The two people standing on either side of the person pointed at also put their palms together and slash at that person’s torso (without actual contact), saying, “Hoi!”
  • After their neighbors slash and say hoi, the person with their hands above the head then drops them in front, pointing at a new person, and saying, “Hoi!”
Winning:
  • After a couple of practice rounds, you can try elimination, where people are out if they say “hoi” out of turn, lose the beat, or motion their hands in the wrong way.
  • When you get to the last two people, the leader can have them stand back to back, walk 5 paces, and then turn and “hoi” at each other–the first to say it & point wins!

Assassin

Description: This game takes serious observations skills as everyone pretends to be diplomats at an international conference, mingling among an assassin!

Instructions:
  • Everyone stands in a circle facing out (no peeking!)
  • The leader is in the center and walks among them, talking about random topics to serve as a distraction as to who they choose as the assassin. The leader taps one person on the shoulder twice, designating him or her as the assassin, and continues to walk and talk a bit to keep anyone from knowing the assassin’s identity.
  • The leader tells everyone to turn and then mingle as if they’re at an international conference.  They should shake hands while saying hello in another language (Variations: leader can tell everyone to greet each other as an animal, or in an accent, etc.).
  • The assassin mingles, too, and intermittently kills people as they shake hands by squeezing someone’s hand twice.
  • Once their hand has been squeezed twice, a person should fall to the ground and faint or die as dramatically as possible.
Winning:
  • As people begin to notice a pattern, someone can raise their hand and shout, “I have an accusation to make!” Someone else has to say, “I second the accusation” for the person to make the accusation–if no one seconds it, they die.  If someone seconds it, the leader counts to three, and then the two people have to point at the accused assassin.  They must point at the same person! If they disagree, they both die.
  • If they both point at the same person, and that person is the assassin, they win. If they both point at the same person, and it’s not the assassin, they both die.

Carriwitchet

Description: This is a variation of the popular game, “Fruit basket.” Only instead of calling out fruits, the person in the middle calls out get-to-know-you descriptions!

Instructions:
  • Everyone stands in a circle facing in on a place marker (or sitting on their chairs).
  • The person who starts out as “it” stands in the middle without a place marker, and calls out “Carriwitchet if you have        [person shares something about themselves or something they’ve done]!”
  • Everyone who has also done that thing or who shares the description has to find a new place marker. When switching, you must find a place at least 2 place markers away.
  • The person in the middle runs to a place marker, and the last person without a place marker is the new “it” in the middle.

Concentration

Description: This is a great clap/chant game to help get everyone in rhythm and unified! It’s also fun to see how many words for each topic the group can come up with.  It is a trickier game to get used to, though, so make sure you have plenty of time for everyone to practice the beat!

Instructions:
  • Everyone sits in a circle facing in.
  • The leader starts everyone off in the clap/snap/chant pattern as follows:
Opening Verse spoken by all: Subject-choosing verse spoken by leader while everyone continues the hand rhythm
  • “CON- (pat legs)
  • -CEN- (clap hands)
  • -TRA- (snap with one hand)
  • -TION, (snap with the other hand)
  • Concen- (pat)
  • -tration (clap)
  • Is the (snap)
  • game. (snap)
  • Keep (pat)
  • the (clap)
  • rhy- (snap)
  • -thm, (snap)
  • keep the (pat)
  • rhythm (clap)
  • to the (snap)
  • end.” (snap)
  • (pat legs)
  • (clap hands)
  • “Subject (snap with one hand)
  • is (snap with the other hand)
  • (pat)
  • (clap)
  • [states subject] (snap)
  • (snap)
  • (pat)
  • (clap)
  • Starting (snap)
  • with  (snap)
  • (pat)
  • (clap)
  • [states example] (snap)
  • (snap)
  • Ideas for subjects:
  • fruits, desserts, cereals, sports, school, summer, animals
  • When you state your example, it must be on the snaps! If it’s more than one syllable, you can say it over both snaps, but it cannot be spoken with the pat/clap.
  • Everyone goes counterclockwise around the circle from the leader stating an example of the subject when it is their turn.
  • NO repeated examples!
Winning:
  • After a few practice rounds, you can try elimination. If a person can’t think of something on their turn, says their example off-rhythm, or repeats an example someone else already said, they are out!

Big Booty

Description: This is a classic concentration rhythm game, where everyone tries to get the Big Booty out!

Instructions:
  • Everyone sits in a circle facing in.
  • The leader is “Big Booty,” and then everyone else numbers off counterclockwise, starting at 1.
  • Everyone puts their hands in the air and says, the following:
    • “Ahhh, Big–”
    • BOO-ty, (pat). They start a simple pat/clap pattern.
    • Big BOOty, (clap on “boo”)
    • Big BOOty. (pat on “boo”)
    • (clap)
    • Big Booty, (pat)
    • Number __ (clap)
    • (pat)
    • (clap)
  • Big Booty starts off by passing his/her turn by saying their own title, and then someone else’s number.
  • One pat/clap beat in between turns.
  • The person whose number is spoken then receives the turn by saying their number and then passes it by saying someone else’s number, or “Big Booty.”
Winning:
  • After a few practice rounds, you can try elimination.  If someone doesn’t receive their turn by saying their own number first, missing the beat, or responding when it’s not their turn, they are out.
  • When someone gets out, they go the end of the numbers (to the right of Big Booty), and everyone numbers off, starting at 1, to the left of Big Booty.
  • The goal is to get Big Booty out  and to become Big Booty yourself!

Captain’s Coming (source)

Description: This is a silly version of Simon Says that gets everyone scrambling to follow the captain’s orders!

Instructions:
  • The leader is the captain, and is in charge of calling out actions and refereeing
  • Actions to be called out:
    • “Captain’s Coming!” (1-person command): Everyone stands at attention with their hand in salute, and they can’t move until the captain says, “At Ease!”  If the captain calls other actions before saying, “at ease,” and people move to do them, they are out!
    • “Man Overboard!” (2-person command): One person drops to one knee the other stands behind them, puts a hand on their shoulder. Both put their hands above their eyes to look for the man overboard.
    • “Crow’s Nest!” (3-person command): Three players stand with their backs toward each other and link elbows, forming a crow’s nest.
    • “Mess Table!” (4-person command): Four players huddle around a make-believe table and pretend to eat savagely, making sounds like, “NOM-NOM-NOM-NOM!!”
    • “Walk the Plank!” (5-person command): Five people stand in a single file row hands on the shoulders of person in front of them.  The captain comes and counts out five, starting with the person at the front, but people can keep trying to shuffle into the front of a line of 5 to get included in the plank until the captain starts counting.
    • “Mermaid!” (optional 1-person command to get everyone cracking up): Players each thrust out the right hips, puts the right hand on that hip, and makes an exaggerated tail wave with the left hand, yelling, “Howdy, sailor!”
  • The captain should revisit “captain’s coming” from time to time to see if everyone is paying attention with “at ease.”
Winning:
  • Everyone has to get in groups, doing the correct actions within a few seconds, or the captain declares them out!
Crabwalk Shoe-Tag

Description: This is a great rainy-day indoor game that gets everyone moving and having fun.

Instructions:
  • The leader sets up a rectangular perimeter with markers.
  • Everyone loosens their shoelaces or shoe straps and then gets into a crabwalk position on all fours.
  • When the leader says, “Go,” everyone crabwalks around trying to knock off each other’s shoes.
Winning:
  • Last one wearing a shoe wins. 🙂

Two Truths & a Lie

Description: This game is a great way to learn about each other–not only the things that people have done, but how good they are at being sneaky. 🙂

Instructions:
  • Everyone thinks of two true things they have done and one thing they have NOT done. (for younger students, you might even have them write down their ideas.  You may also want to teach them about what makes it fun; saying, “I have 1 brother, I have 2 brothers, I have 2 uncles,” isn’t a particularly interesting one for anyone to guess, which is partly why we emphasize telling them to share things they’ve done).
  • Other players take a few turns guessing which is the lie, before the person reveals it!
Winning:
  • The person who correctly guesses the lie gets the next turn!

Never Have I Ever

Description: This is another classic get-to-know-you game that my students always enjoyed playing in the hallways while waiting for the next activity!

Instructions:
  • Everyone puts 5 fingers in the air.
  • The  person whose turn it is says, “Never have I ever ___(something they have honestly never done that they think other people have done)___.”
  • Anyone who HAS done it must put down one finger.
Winning:
  • The person who still has at least one finger up wins!

Photo Source

Antoinette van de Rieth (featured image)

How Kindergarten Prep Frenzy Changed My Teaching Perspective

I didn’t think the teacher/parent table would turn on me that fast. After all, not only I had just paused my teaching career in June–I was only back for a few weeks in September to mentor a student teacher–my own kids weren’t even in school yet.

As I sat in the teacher’s lounge listening to all the usual back-to-school lunchtime chatter, I overheard some kindergarten teachers anticipating their new batch of 5 year-olds. One exclaimed how many students failed to identify lower-cased letters of the alphabet in the initial assessments.

I froze. Normally, I’d commiserate a bit, perhaps reciprocating with how many students I had on behavior contracts. But it hit me: MY 4-year old didn’t know her lower-cased letters.  And she showed no signs of wanting to, either, despite the fact that she’d be starting kindergarten the following fall.

It was my first realization that in the school system, I was officially on the parent side of the table.

Preschool Pressure

I finished mentoring and went back to my extended parental leave at home. Over the course of a month or so, the stress in preschool-ing my stubborn four-year old grew.  Frustrations mounted each time she refused to sing her ABC’s or explore some carefully-crafted science station. Those fears finally came to light one evening when I realized that I had been subconsciously–yet intensely–internalizing the conversation from the teacher’s lounge all that time.  I remember actually saying out loud,

“What if she becomes the subject of her kindergarten teacher’s complaining in the faculty lounge next year?”

Once spoken aloud, I realized how silly the words sounded. However, as I began to conduct research to make preschool a more positive process, I also realized that I was far from alone when it comes to fearful parents.

“Preparation” on Steroids?

Wanting to give their children the best advantages, some parents have taken to “redshirting” their kindergarteners.  That is, they delay school a year in the hopes that their children will gain a “competitive learning edge.”

Other parents obsess over the school their child attends.  One article describes how parents went so far as to move to new neighborhoods, create spreadsheets, and attend Kindergarten 101–a prep class for parents.  But these preparations aren’t discussed as excessive, but as possibly helpful, citing a Harvard study that found that academic performance in kindergarten correlates to future earnings.

Top all that with an abundance of academics-heavy kindergarten readiness checklists, it’s no wonder that parents are inclined to worry.

Kindergarten Readiness Tips & Checklists

Kindergarten prep is indeed all the rage these days, especially for those who believe the Common Core standards mandate five year olds to read. But parents and teachers alike would do well to step away from the frenzy and examine what is truly developmentally appropriate for their children.  Below are tips for both to help them regain calm and clarity in learning with their preschoolers and kindergartners.

Parent Tips
  • Correlation does not equal causation. Remember that there are always a lot of possible causes for any given outcome.  Studies that find correlations for later successes are likely just picking up on the simple benefits of involved, loving parents.
  • Consider the effects of rushing your child.  The author of The Hurried Child, Dr. David Elkind, shares research that “students are more likely to have academic success if they are not hurried through their early childhood by parents who overestimate their competence and overexpose them to academic pressures.”
  • Travis Swan
    Travis Swan

    Step away from the workbooks. That’s not to say that if your child demonstrates genuine interest in more academic concepts, you should deny them.  But it’s essential to understand that play is absolutely critical for developing the most basic skills for kindergarten readiness and beyond–including problem solving, passion, experimentation, and more.  As Richard Lewis, founder and director of The Touchstone Center in New York City, explains:

“Play is the great discoverer, and its discoveries are the frontiers and landscapes of our imagining mind.” [“I Made It By Myself,” by Richard Lewis]

Teacher Tips
  • See each new student. Don’t allow your initial benchmarks or any other number to define your opinions of any child. Instead, make it your priority to discover their interests, strengths, quirks, etc.
  • Step away from the workbooks. (see parent tip above).
  • Evaluate what the Common Core State Standards are really outlining. If you are among those stressing about the perceived advanced standards for early elementary, remember that the political agendas and loud voices of a few have skewed interpretations of the standards for some. In our most recent post on the Common Core, we shared J. Richard Gentry’s example of what easily misinterpreted standards really look like:

For example, one contested language arts standard reads, “Read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.”  Gentry explains that this refers to memory reading in which, “The emergent-reader text is first modeled by the teacher for the students, then joyfully read over and over with the students until eventually the easy book is independently read by the students with great joy and confidence.” (We highly recommend his article, “An Ode to Common Core Kindergarten Standards.”)

Kindergarten Readiness

One of the best kindergarten readiness lists I’ve ever encountered was on a university’s laboratory preschool blog, prefaced by the following:

“Don’t be overly concerned with academics right now…You read to your children, you go on family outings, you model a love for learning, but most of all you are very involved in the lives of your children. This will make kindergarten a wonderful time for your child, and start him/her on the road to a good education.”

Here is their list, which I heartily second as a teacher and parent:

  1. Feel capable and confident, and tackle new demands with an “I can do it” attitude.
  2. Have an open, curious attitude toward new experiences.
  3. Enjoy being with other children.
  4. Can establish a trusting relationship with adults other than parents.
  5. Can engage in physical activity such as walk, run, climb (children with handicaps can have a fine time in kindergarten if school and parents work cooperatively on necessary special arrangements).
  6. Take care of their own basic needs, such as dressing, eating, and toileting.
  7. Have had experience with small toys, such as puzzles and crayons.
  8. Express themselves clearly in conversation.
  9. Understand that symbols (such as a stop sign) are used to provide useful information.
  10. Love books, stories and songs and can sit still to listen.

Whether a parent or a teacher, remember to ask yourself the following question:

With what kind of tone do I want to introduce formal education to my kindergartner? 

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